I have the distinct privilege of attending Houston Texans games since 2002. Reliant Stadium was my developmental playground and source of rich social learning as a kid. I saw everything from grown men crying over a touchdown to immature men grappling over an accidental spilled ale. I witnessed dramatic wins, experienced exhausting losses, struggled with my own fandom, and treasured memorable moments with my family over the years.
Now that I’ve flew the coop for the West Coast, each Thanksgiving affords me the opportunity to return to the NRG stomping grounds. Though the only stomping that has occurred over the past half-decade while I was gone was the Texans football team. It had become a labor to will my family to attend ill-fated football games featuring disastrous teams in the same, unchanged atmosphere.
Last year I attended a Texans’ game and did my best to illustrate the beleaguered atmosphere inside the stadium for Deshaun Watson’s return. The energy in the stadium was the most noticeable difference. Later that season, Matt Weston wrote about his thoughts from the ballpark:
Our entire section was empty. We had two entire rows to ourselves. People left for halftime snacks, only to never return. Like a former HBO Sunday night prestige television show, they dissipated into nothingness.
Even after the exodus, the noise level at NRG Stadium remained the same. No one around us stood up, let alone sat up, to yell and scream on third down. Yet the sound remained tremendous. I wanted it to be like a picnic. The first battle of the Civil War. With red and white checkered blankets, ants taking off with saran wrapped sandwiches, wicker basket, below the battlefield, where the men head into something they assume will be over in the span of a few hours, not four years.
I heard rumors of a new energy and cadence to the games. Considering the extensive turnover of the fans - particularly season ticket holders, I could only imagine how the ethos of the stadium had changed
This year, I was able to attend both the Cardinals and Jaguars games in Houston. Safe to say I received my fill of late-game dramatics.
First off, the heralded Trill Burgers cost me $20 and an entire quarter of football for a patty that resembled the taste and sodium intake of McDonalds. My college economic professor would have glowered at the supply and demand inefficiencies of the kitchen. Nothing is more vexing than being in a stadium watching the three-second delayed closed circuit broadcast while hearing the fans react to the game in real time. It’s like watching your life unfold in third person.
The hill I will gladly die on is the soft arched bun and glistening BBQ sauce of Killen’s BBQ as the premier meal inside the stadium.
The Texans have fully redesigned and restructured the pre-game festivities. The mariachi band and Latin flare preceding the team’s entrance onto the field is a fantastic meld of cultural synergy and authenticity. Someone inside the Texans marketing department took a straw poll and identified a neat connection point with the fanbase.
In true Texan form, this improvement is blighted by the animatronic Toro head spewing smoke out of it’s nostrils like a defunct Chuck E. Cheese mechanical mascot band. It was as much of an improvement as having Josh McCown as the offensive play caller last season.
Houston has tweaked it’s in-game P.A. announcements too. For the longest time, every defensive third down and offensive first down reverberated the same call and response from the fans. The team has similar consistent announcements such as “Texans - SWARM” and “That’s good for another Houston Texans.... First Down”, but now they alternate and mix it up. This has broken up much of the perpetual rhythm from the stadium announcers and I thought it was a welcomed adjustment. It felt more authentic and less repetitive.
From a play-by-play perspective, the fanbase’s demeanor evolved. Gone are the days where the fans are hanging on pins and needles every play. This season is all about the eye test and competency. The rookies looked great. The uniforms on the other hand probably won’t make a second appearance. This past two weeks have been late starters for the fans as many of the seats weren’t occupied until well into the first quarter. There’s also a more ‘entertainment’ atmosphere around the game. From the DJ booth to the aforementioned mariachi band, the full experience has been elevated from a mere football game.
The Texans are reviving both the on and off field product. It’s a completely new franchise; new front office, new fans, and new players. Now it’s time for the Texans to get back to their old ways of winning the AFC South and competing in the playoffs.